Tampa hands off title game to Atlanta

Tampa Bay Sports Commission Executive Director Rob Higgins hands off a ceremonial helmet to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, symbolizing that next season’s College Football Playoff championship game will be played in Atlanta. Also on stage are CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock (at podium), Atlanta Sports Council President Dan Corso (second from right) and Falcons CEO Rich McKay. (Contributed photo)

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Tampa Bay Sports Commission Executive Director Rob Higgins hands off a ceremonial helmet to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, symbolizing that next season’s College Football Playoff championship game will be played in Atlanta. Also on stage are CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock (at podium), Atlanta Sports Council President Dan Corso (second from right) and Falcons CEO Rich McKay. (Contributed photo)

Less than 12 hours after the end of college football’s national championship game in Tampa, the event was formally handed off to Atlanta, which will host next season’s title game.

At a news conference at the Tampa Convention Center on Tuesday, the local host committee delivered to its Atlanta counterparts a football helmet bearing the College Football Playoff logo. Attached to the helmet: stickers with the names of the championship game’s past three host cities.

“I know you don’t want to give this up,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock said to Tampa Bay Sports Commission executive director Rob Higgins, “but I’m going to ask you to do the honors and formally pass it on to the folks from Atlanta.”

Higgins handed the helmet to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, signifying that responsibility passes to Atlanta for the Jan. 8, 2018, game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Reed was joined on stage by Atlanta Sports Council President Dan Corso and Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay, both members of the Atlanta host committee’s board of directors.

The Atlanta delegation praised Tampa’s handling of the championship game and expressed confidence the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium and its proximity to downtown attractions and hotels will build on the College Football Playoff’s momentum.

But the delegation also had a request beyond its control: a game as good as Clemson’s stirring, come-from-behind, last-second victory over Alabama on Monday night.

“I believe that our arena is going to be unmatched in America and in the world,” Reed said. “Now if they can just deliver us a game like we had last night, I think all will be well.”

About 40 people affiliated with the Atlanta host committee were in Tampa at the CFP’s invitation for a behind-the-scenes look at how the championship game operates. The group included representatives of the Atlanta Sports Council, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, Georgia World Congress Center Authority, Georgia Tech, Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Mercedes-Benz Stadium and others.

“Atlanta had 40 people here to make sure that we learned all the things we could learn from Tampa, which were a lot because it was a fantastic event, and try to improve upon it and do the best we can,” McKay said.

The group observed all aspects of the spectacle — stadium set-up and operations, public safety, traffic planning, marketing, branding, signage, volunteer programs, hospitality programs, media operations and a myriad of ancillary activities.

“What I saw was a highly organized event that managed traffic flow well, that got people in and out of the game efficiently, and then I saw terrific customer service,” Reed said in an interview. “They also had very strong branding without it being overwhelming.”

Said Corso: “I thought they did a fantastic job of activating the assets that are endemic to Tampa — the waterfront, the Riverwalk.”

Atlanta is accustomed to hosting major sports events, but the College Football Playoff is a relatively new event at just 3 years old. The first two championship games were held in the Dallas and Phoenix areas.

Hancock said he expects the distinguishing features of the Atlanta game to be “the stadium, the activity downtown and what we call the ‘walkability’ from the hotels to the stadium.”

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, under construction next to the destined-for-demolition Georgia Dome, is scheduled to open July 30 with an Atlanta United soccer match. The college football championship game is the first of three mega-events committed to the new stadium, followed by the Super Bowl in February 2019 and the college basketball Final Four in April 2020.

The stadium will have been open less than six months when the college football title game arrives.

“Everybody that I talk to feels like we’re going to be more than ready,” Reed said.

The Atlanta host committee will spend the next year preparing for and marketing the game, which is much more than a game. Tampa Bay’s four-day lineup included a free concert series, fireworks shows, a fan zone of interactive games, corporate and fan parties, a 5K road race and an open-to-the-public media day.

“I think we’ve certainly proven time and time again that we know how to do major events,” Reed said. “… But we will have to take our game up a notch consistent with Tampa’s terrific leadership.”